Janet's Notebook
Get Ready for Summer with Cool Strawberry Treats

Mascarpone Mousse, Balsamic Strawberries

A few days ago I received a frantic call from a good friend. "Guess what just happened," she exclaimed! My mind began racing through the possibilities - car accident, broken bones, a lost job. All of the worst-case scenarios flashed to mind. (What can I say, I'm a mom!) I told her that I was sure I couldn't possibly guess. Breathless, she replied, "I just picked my own strawberries!!!" Now, THAT was a new one.

But her strawberry "emergency" got me thinking about the first time I, myself, ventured into a sunny field and came back with a pail full of berries. It was satisfaction beyond words. If there had been cell phones back then I do believe I'd have been making a few calls myself!

Harvesting those juicy red berries is a surprisingly invigorating experience. I think it's probably even more exhilarating now a days when so many of us are disconnected from the sources of our everyday food. Whether store-bought, frozen or fresh-picked, I wanted to dedicate this week's column to all you enthusiasts out there and to that delightfully sweet, sentimental harbinger of summer: the strawberry.

Kicking off our strawberry homage is a wonderful recipe from Donna Will, her addictive Delightfully Cool Summer Strawberry Torte. It's never too early to get a jump on summer eats, and Donna's recipe has to be one of the easiest, most time-effective ways to capture the essence of great berry flavor.

"This dish is a wonderful dessert for any occasion," says the Nanjemoy, MD native. "It's great for parties or for a picnic. I love this one - I make it a lot for family."

In fact, this recipe would be perfect for any warm-weather celebration. It's easy to double, and you won't have to break the bank (or rob one!) in order to satisfy your crowd. Simply alternate layers of cake with vanilla pudding, whipped cream and fresh berries! Use a large clear bowl if you have one - The layers make this dessert pretty enough to double as your centerpiece!

Another berry pretty dessert comes to us from Jo Anne Sugimoto of Kaneohe, HI. She keeps it simple as well by using quality ingredients to bring out their truest flavor.

"For some reason or other I really like balsamic vinegar, especially with fruits and vegetables," says Jo Anne of her Ricotta Mascarpone Mousse with Balsamic Strawberries. "And of course, who doesn't like ricotta and mascarpone cheeses?!"

I couldn't have said it better myself! Jo Anne is on to something wonderful here. Her combination of creamy cheeses and juicy berries with the earthy tang of balsamic vinegar will have your guests asking for your "secret". I love how beautifully refined this dish is without being at all fussy. Quite a treat, indeed.

Don't let my sweet-tooth fool you; strawberries aren't just for dessert anymore. They're stunning when added to salads and savory dishes as well. Jillena Smith's adorable Strawberry Ham Bites are the perfect meal starter. The sweetness of real strawberry jam plays perfectly against salty ham and cheese. Pair a few with Marie Guaragna's prize-winning Mandarin Orange/Strawberry Spinach Salad and you have a killer warm-weather combo that will leave everyone - from picky grandkids to your luncheon ladies - asking for more. (Believe me, I speak from experience... Make plenty!)

However you choose to revel in the sweetness of the season, be sure to make room and enjoy the bounty of your table. It's so easy to get swept up in the rush of every day, but there truly is nothing more rejuvenating than pausing, taking a deep breath and stopping to smell the strawberries.

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Pat DiMercurio - May 28, 2011
Janet, this has nothing to do with your newsletter, but I didn't know how else to contact you. Is there a chance that you'd have the ability to have a spot on JAP where we could increase the size of a recipe to cook for a crowd? Pretty please?????
Sonja Compher - May 27, 2011
all I can say is awesome!
S Raile - May 26, 2011
Did you know....Strawberries & Baking soda = a cheap natural, organic way to whiten teeth !

Directions: Crush the strawberry to a pulp, then mix with the baking soda until blended. Use a soft toothbrush to spread the mixture onto your teeth. Leave on for 5 minutes, then brush thoroughly with toothpaste to remove the berry–baking soda mix. Rinse. (A little floss will help get rid of any strawberry seeds.)

*Be careful not to use this too often, though, as the acid could damage the enamel on your teeth.*
Jenni K - May 25, 2011
This is my favorite salad during the summer. So light and delicious during strawberry season!

Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad
Amanda Dover - May 24, 2011
Just posted this Pampered Chef recipe. Hope you enjoy it!

Strawberry Amaretto Patries
Lisa Byrd - May 24, 2011
lottie pickett - May 24, 2011
I use the instant vanilla pudding (large pkg.) Make sure you seal the cake good with the pudding. I like the cooked kind for banana pudding but the instant works well for me using whole milk.
Aury Ventura - May 24, 2011
i have a nephew that is a strawberry fiend. he loves them either by themselves or dipped in chocolate. think i'll make the torte when he comes down from tampa during the summer. thank you.
Colleen Sowa - May 24, 2011
Thanks for this post.... I love strawberries... and love the posts!
Holly Kirkland - May 24, 2011
a delightful strawberry essay!